When I first started reading this book I wasn't sure whether I was ever going to finish it as I just couldn't get into it. But I persevered having enjoyed the first two books in the Appleby series and I did find it interesting a well written. It is not a conventional crime novel and is nothing like the first two books in the series. It is narrated in seven sections by some of the people involved in the story - one of which is Appleby himself though he only makes a brief appearance in the second half of the book.
Ranald Guthrie is a miser and lives in a remote and dilapidated castle. No one really likes him and when it appears that he has thrown himself off the battlements to his death there are not too many people who feel any regret about his passing. But that is far from being the end of the story and many people will be suspected of a possible murder before the end of the book and many revelations will be made before the case is solved.
I think what put me off at first was the language in which the first part was narrated which involved many Scots phrases and expressions which at times forced me to go back and read sentences again and again until I understood their meaning. The book was worth reading in the end and I did enjoy it but I found it hard work.
This is very different from the other Michael Innes books I have read; very Scottish in its drama and poetry, marvellous characterisation, beautiful description of the landscape, brilliantly told and a brilliant plot. There are one or two funny bits, but in the main it is serious, with some real tragedy.
This is one of the best books Innes ever wrote, and the book which rekindled my interest in the writer. Despite some similarities to E.C. Bentley's classic Trent's Last Case, this is unmistakable Innes: a fantastic setting, here a semi-ruined castle; a whole host of fantastic eccentrics, including the brilliant inventions of the miser Ranald Guthrie, and the servant Hardcastle; and a dazzlingly display of ingenious fireworks at the end, leaving the reader stunned and satisfied. The story and the atmosphere are both perfect, and the flashbacks to Australia are excellent, and, speaking from an Australian perspective, they seem to fit in with my four-year-old memories of South Australia. Innes should know South Australia - he was Jury Professor of English at Adelaide. Note that the book features the return of an older, wiser and more mature Noel Gylby from Hamlet, Revenge!